Hand-Me-Down Happiness

The Well-Mannered Mother or blog reader may occasionally suffer a pang of self-doubt, wondering, “what if my hand-me-downs have become somebody else’s “hand-me-downer” or dreaded bag of junk?” While we want to assure our gentle readers that we highly doubt it, we will offer a few thoughts on giving hand-me-downs gracefully.

First, a well-mannered mother looks over each potential hand-me-down with fresh eyes. How bad are the holes, stains, pilling? Non-existent? Passable? Or, would the garment violate reasonable standards of hygiene and possibly a few health codes? She may also assess suitability. Is the recipient child already or approaching the approximate age/ size for the item? Or will it have to languish in storage for years to come? Best to keep things relevant and not pass size 10 clothes on to a newborn. To avoid potential awkwardness, the well-mannered mother may offer the recipient a chance to decline her second hand treasures. Rather than drop a bag by the house when no one’s home, she may call, email, or ask in person, saying something along the lines of “I was cleaning out Ian’s closet and have some adorable shorts and shirts that he’s outgrown. I was thinking your family might be able to use them. Would you be interested?” This gives the mother a chance to say, “Thanks but we’ve already got more clothes than we need.” Or, “yes! when can I come get them?” A truly gracious mother may clean out her children’s closets, organize everything into discrete piles, and invite a few friends over to select which items they can use. Sort of like a trunk show, only much, much better.


The business of bringing up children is filled with stuff. Tiny baby socks, bouncy chairs, high chairs, ride-on toys, jackets, mittens, soccer cleats, backpacks, dress shoes, bicycles, skates, and lots and lots of clothing, much of which is hardly worn before its outgrown. No wonder so many of us love to give and receive hand-me downs. Most mothers do not, however, love to come home to a bag full of heinous junk sitting on the front step, with or without a note that says, “A few things I thought you could use! Enjoy!” A bag of stained children’s t-shirts and underwear is, of course, not a gift at all but another item on a to do list. (Sort contents: rag bag, trash, charity.) What’s a well mannered mother to do about an over-zealous giver of questionable goods? Initially, she must accept graciously and dispose of the contents. If the “gifts” keep coming, she could try to deflect future deposits with a phone call or email saying something like, “Thank you so much for all your hand-me-downs. Our closets are absolutely stuffed full of great clothes. We just have so much now, I couldn’t in good conscience take any more hand-me-downs. Can I help you find somewhere else to take your next bunch?” Or she could continue with the status quo (accept, dispose, repeat, accept, dispose, repeat), satisfied that she has not passed the buck, or in this case, bag of junk, on to some unsuspecting mother.

Mutton Dressed as Lamb

She isn’t modern. She isn’t new. But she is ridiculous. Like some 16th Century tragicomedy you will see her sauntering down the street. Leggings, bolero jacket, heels, enormous bag, long honey hair, big sunglasses. You name it, she has it going on and often so does the fourteen year old with her. She, of course, is a woman of a certain age, dressed like a teenager and the teenager by her side is not her BFF but her daughter. It is almost as if the elder and younger fashion victims have averaged their ages and decided to dress to the mean. Often the look is too sophisticated for the younger and truly ridiculous on the elder. The well mannered modern mother knows how to be attractive at her age and how to help her daughter make appropriate wardrobe choices. By no means should the modern mother look frumpy or feel relegated to shopping in Talbot’s. Nor should she rush out and buy a pair of Not Your Daughter’s Jeans (although we applaud their effort in the fight against muffin tops). She should realize that after about 40 chic is much sexier than slinky and life experience and confidence combined with a slightly longer hem line will make her elegant and alluring.

White Lies and Homework Time

Some evening, a well mannered mother may find herself helping a child with a homework assignment in which he is required to write a compliment for each classmate. After dashing off a few compliments to his friends, the child lays his head on the table, taps his pencil on the table, stares off into space. Though she may be thinking “Are you kidding me?! This is what passes for homework these days?!” the well mannered mother takes a deep breath and peruses the class list. “One of these people must be funny. What about him, he makes you laugh, right?”
The child responds, deadpan, “He’s not funny.”
“Ever? Even a little bit?”
“He seems funny to me.”
“He’s not.” Head back down onto the table. “He just thinks he is.”
Children are raw and uncompromising in their assessments of one another. Though some may learn to tell social lies from a young age (“that sweater is beautiful, Grandma”) their world is not greased by the polite pleasantries of adults. They know who their friends are and who has been making faces behind their backs. With only a few scrawled compliments standing between the child and his bedtime, the well mannered mother may be tempted to say, “if he thinks he’s funny, just tell him he is and he’ll feel flattered and complimented.” But she knows she can’t ask her child to say something he doesn’t believe. Not for social expediency. Not for bedtime expediency. One could call it a white lie, but it’s a lie nonetheless. So, the well mannered mother and child review the adage posted on his classroom wall: “Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?” And, she may say, “Lets try again and think of something true. He did a good job in the school play, right?” Kind? Yes. True? Yes. Necessary? To finish this homework assignment, absolutely.

Can Shopping Save the World?

These days many a modern mother may feel inundated by opportunities to commit retail philanthropy. The well mannered mother knows that despite how nicely worded the invitation or how dire the suffering may be, racing off to Bergdorfs or Bloomies for "An Elegant Evening of Shopping for a Cause" will not really save Haiti, fight terrorism, cure cancer, end global warming or prevent under age prostitution in South East Asia. The suggestion that by donating 10% of the proceeds from such an event (gross or net by the way?) these retailers are benevolently facilitating your generosity is a big load of hooey. They are simply trying to drive shoppers into their stores to increase profits in a dismal economic environment. This is fine. Up with Capitalism. And up with shopping. But let's be honest about all this. The well mannered modern mother with a calculator can easily prove that in order for her to donate $100 via retail benevolence she would need to buy $1,000 worth of clothing (assuming the store donates 10% of gross proceeds of course). It makes a lot more sense for her to send $100 dollars to the Red Cross and spend $300 updating her spring look - if this happens via a charity shopping event all the better. There is, of course, a long history in American 'Society' of glamorous socialites attending charity galas to benefit causes, museums, libraries, gardens, and to keep Venice afloat. This is a wonderful pastime and an excellent way to keep billionaires off the streets and out of the restaurants. The well mannered mother of slightly more limited means should keep in mind that charity is charity and shopping is shopping and try not to confuse the two.

Children of Pedestrian Tastes

Children are notoriously picky eaters. Perhaps that is why the “kids’ menu” was born. Chicken fingers, pasta, pizza, hot dogs. These pedestrian offerings may initially seem like a blessing since they provide sustenance to finicky children, while allowing their beleaguered parents to simultaneously enjoy a decent restaurant meal. Don’t be fooled. The kids’ menu quickly escalates into a vicious cycle where child claims to like only chicken fingers, pasta, pizza, hot dogs; child is offered only chicken fingers, pasta, pizza, hot dogs; so child subsists on diet limited to, yes, chicken fingers (with fries), hot dogs (with fries), pizza (with fries?) and pasta (with fries???). And we wonder why so many children "prefer" such a limited diet? After the millionth time the well mannered mother watches her child scarf down the hot dog and fries from the kids’ menu, rather than eat the roast chicken and rice he would happily enjoy if there were no kids’ menu, she may just want to rip that photocopied piece of paper to shreds. Or set it on fire. Or take the family to a restaurant that doesn’t offer a kids' menu. What a novel concept! Maybe, just maybe, that is what one well mannered mother will do.

The Child of Finicky Tastes

Children are notoriously picky eaters. Some are so selective that they seem to subsist exclusively on pasta, hot dogs, and bacon. Aside from the obvious nutritional deficiencies, this limited diet can become a problem when the child is a guest at Grandma’s Thanksgiving dinner, on a play date, or when the whole family is invited to a brunch that consists of quiche, whole wheat rolls, and salad. Confronted with the possibility that her child will touch no morsel of food at such an event, what is a well mannered mother to do? Does she relay her child’s whimpering request for “just a hot dog, please” to the hostess? No, a hostess is not a short-order cook. Does she drop all adult conversation so she can plead loudly and persistently with her child to “please, please just eat one bite?” No, because she is compassionate to her adult companions. Given that the persnickety child may be enjoying the limelight as he turns up his nose at various culinary delights, the well mannered mother is careful not to encourage complaining. She may shrug her shoulders and say, “oh well, you might want to eat some of this delicious quiche when you are hungrier,” and return to the adult conversation. Or, she may say, “If you don’t like it now, you might want to try it when you are older, since your taste buds change, and as you get older, you might find you like new things,” and thus give the child the opportunity to change his mind, while “saving face.” And in some cases, she may watch her child eat a pat of butter for lunch, secure in the knowledge that it could possibly have more nutritional value than your average Happy Meal. The wise well mannered mother will of course keep a stash of snacks in the car so she won’t have to resort to the Happy Meal on the way home.

A Child of Refined Tastes

Children are notoriously picky eaters. Perhaps that is why some parents can’t rave enough about their child’s unusual tastes. “Oh she just loves sashimi.” Or, “we really prefer to snack on dried nori – he just can’t get enough of it!” accompanied by a knowing shake of the head. When did food become an arena for competition? Maybe at the same time it became fashionable for parents to know the provenance of their pork chops and to buy varietal chocolate. But why? And more importantly, what’s a well mannered mother to do about this bragging? Should she disparage the food in question and reply, “But aren’t you concerned about the high mercury levels in all that fish?” Or counter “Oh well, my child really prefers Nigiri Sushi.” Of course not. She should avoid one-upmanship and contests of "food correctness." This leaves few alternatives but to nod appreciatively, mumble something about how “interesting” that is, and move the conversation forward with a change of subject. After all, she knows that though her son may currently be sucking down wilted dandelion greens with sherry vinegar like they're spun sugar, tomorrow night may be a different story entirely.

Putting the Good back in Goodie Bags

According to the US Census Bureau, in 2009 the US exported $69,576 million worth of goods and services to China. The US imported $296,402 million worth of goods and services from China. What accounts for this -$226,806 million trade imbalance? Could it be mountains of little pieces of plastic junk found in childrens' birthday party goodie bags? And what is a well mannered mother to do?

 First, every so often when the undiscerning offspring are out of the house she can race around with a paper bag gathering up all the flimsy, tacky, possibly toxic plastic pieces she can find and throw them away. Best practices suggest, hiding these useless trinkets out of reach for a couple of weeks just to make sure they are not missed, then throwing them away in a black opaque trash bag where they will not be “noticed” or “rescued.”

 Second, the well mannered modern mother should try to lead by example. When the next birthday in her family rolls around she might want to help her children take a quality over quantity approach. Some of the most successful non ‘China Curse' party favors we know of include: home made cookies or play dough tied up with ribbon, an easily exchangeable paperback book, small Lego kit, fabric swatch with needle and thread, a small card game, and seeds, bulbs, or a small plant for the garden. Not only will this approach help de-clutter the modern mothers’ life, reduce her carbon print and landfill usage, but it may have a far-reaching positive effect on the US trade balance with China.
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